Leveraging the ESRF’s intellectual property


The ESRF is preparing to capitalise further on its instrumentation know-how.

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The ESRF is more than a suite of world-class X-ray beamlines: it is a unique hub for synchrotron instrumentation, with some 150 engineers and scientists working across specialist laboratories developing everything from undulators to detectors.

Much of the ESRF’s technology, which is often developed in collaboration with other institutes, is sold through licence agreements with established companies. Over 20 agreements are in place, including: permanent magnet technology for insertion devices (Danfysik & Bruker Advanced Supercon GmbH), K-B systems for high performance focusing (IRELEC), and high-precision miniature X-ray slits (JJ X-Ray). ESRF instrumentation may also be sold directly.


From prototypes to products

The goal of the ESRF now is to extend its product range and to streamline the process of turning expertise and new technologies into profit and jobs. “Many other synchrotrons do not have such a strong instrumentation infrastructure, so it’s one of the missions of the ESRF to share our expertise with other sources,” explains Ed Mitchell, head of the ESRF’s Business Development Office (BDO). “This year we want to develop our offer of unique technology and expertise, exploiting the ESRF’s 20-year-long experience.”

Some ESRF instrumentation is already close to market: for example high-performance scintillator screens, pixel detectors (particularly MAXIPIX), high-temperature furnaces, cryostats and advanced crystal optics. Until now, however, instrumentation has not been advertised and, when not licensed, is sold in limited volumes.

In addition to well defined X-ray instruments, the ESRF wants to integrate its expertise in specialised software and advanced analysis/modelling techniques. “We cannot say we are going to sell just mechanics, optics, electronics or software because the high performance of an instrument comes from pooling these things together,” says Muriel Mattenet of the BDO.

Intricate instruments such as K-B mirrors, particularly those designed for nano-beams, plus multilayer or crystal monochromators and white-beam mirror systems are a promising ESRF expertise given the trend towards nanoscale beams at synchrotrons worldwide. The ESRF currently has different versions of “transfocator” optics assemblies based on compound-refractive lens technology, but is converging on a standardised and therefore more commercially viable set up. Similarly, more general ESRF-designed hardware such as ion chambers and high-vacuum compatible beam viewers would benefit from economies of scale.


Preparing for the future

Improvements in third-generation sources, better optics, enhanced thermal and mechanical stability, optimised control, and faster data acquisition have enabled the evolution from micro- to nano-probe synchrotron experiments. Extrapolating this trend, explains Mattenet, access to picoscale X-ray probes, faster data acquisition and more advanced control may become possible – with a move towards “ultimate storage rings” with improved emittance.

By leveraging the ESRF’s intellectual property, the BDO aims to ensure that instrumentation meets the future demands of science and technology. “In terms of the science, we expect to see greater demand for in situ and in operando studies, in combination with shorter timescales and the ability to probe deeper into the structure of matter at higher resolution,” says Jean Susini, head of the ESRF’s Instrumentation Service and Development Division. “This will oblige instrumentation to be one step ahead of the science drivers, and to draw upon new industrial technologies.”

Matthew Chalmers



This article appeared in ESRFnews, July 2012. 

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